Fantastic Beasts: Neighborhood Theatre Group's "Cryptic"


Cryptic poster for Neighborhood Theatre Group

Everyone gathered once all the tables had been pushed together in the center of the room and enough chairs had been scrounged. Scripts were handed out and a notebook was passed around for the actors and crew members to write their names, roles, and contact info while introductions were made around the large makeshift table.

There were no monsters or mythical creatures in sight.

I sat with a few other guests on the sidelines finishing off a brownie sundae. Sure, it might have been the first frigid week of January, but this first full-script reading of the Neighborhood Theatre Group's newest original production -- a two-act play called Cryptic by local playwright A. M. Dean -- was being hosted by Go! Ice Cream. (Besides, it's never too cold for ice cream.)

According to the NTG website, Cryptic is a “heart-warming comedy [that] follows the Huron Valley Cryptozoology Club and a woman who needs to prove that monsters exist.” If that sounds a little out of reach, director Marisa Dluge would like you to know, “They are written so well -- as a group and in individual relationships -- that you absolutely fall in love with every character on stage. These characters are people that you know or can directly relate to.”

I agree. Everyone has a hobby, monster hunters included. And the setting is in a totally relatable, unnamed city along the Huron River. The main character Roberta’s pursuit of a made-up-for-the-play cryptid (an animal whose existence cannot be proven) was inspired by an actual Ypsilanti urban legend. Writer Dean explained, when he first moved to Ypsilanti, “I was strolling in Riverside Park and came across one of those plaques they have on nature trails that explain the natural history of the flora and fauna around you. I stopped to look at it, and it featured a fur-covered flying frog called a ‘smeet.’ I was enamored.”

Dean enjoyed the research into cryptozoology: “Mostly I've done a lot of reading about people who are captivated by the world's mysteries. There are also a heap of sighting videos on YouTube and stuff. Not recommended if you spook easily. I've had a few nights where my worldview was challenged uncomfortably.”

Dluge said that the cast has been digging deep and is “committed to their authentic connection” to and between their characters. “I believe the audience will walk away feeling delighted and loved. Grab someone you care about, and come see a show that makes you feel so grateful for the people around you.”

Crysta Coburn is a desk clerk with the Ann Arbor District Library, freelance writer, editor, and author.

Neighborhood Theatre Group will perform "Cryptic" at Buona Sera Underground, 200 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti on Feb. 23 and 24 at 8 pm and Feb. 25 at 2 pm. Visit for tickets and more info.